Senate candidates choose their battles on immigration debate

In a new radio ad, Republican challenger John Raese criticizes Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) for opposing the deployment of troops to secure the U.S. border.

In a new radio ad, Republican challenger John Raese criticizes Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) for opposing the deployment of troops to secure the U.S. border.

But Byrd’s campaign notes that, during debate on the Senate immigration bill two weeks ago, the senator actually voted for an amendment that would have done just that. Raese’s camp said the ads are based on an earlier newspaper article in which Byrd expresses reservations about the troops’ being overworked.

Raese is one of several Senate candidates across the country using the finer points of the immigration debate as campaign fodder in advertisements and press releases. Their efforts are working to varying degrees of success to differentiate them from their opponents, who are firing back in much the same manner.

Only two Republicans facing tough reelection campaigns — Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio) — were among the 23 in their party voting for final passage of the bill, and three of the four Democratic no votes were cast by vulnerable candidates.

When asked about Byrd’s vote on the National Guard amendment, Raese spokesman Gary Abernathy said Byrd’s final no vote on the entire immigration package represents an example of a senator voting for a bill before voting against it, a reference to Sen. John Kerry’s infamous comments during the 2004 presidential campaign about his voting preliminarily for a bill funding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and later voting against the measure.

But Abernathy said Raese would also have voted against the overall bill.

The Associated Press article Abernathy is referring to says that Byrd “questioned whether the National Guard is stretched too thin for such duty” and quotes Byrd saying that West Virginia National Guardsmen have “taken on two, three, sometimes four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Byrd spokesman Mark Ferrell said the senator simply wanted to make sure that the troops’ mission was clear and that it wasn’t a political stunt, and he was satisfied in both regards.

“Anybody with access to the Internet can look up any member of Congress’s votes, and I would assume that the Raese campaign has that ability,” Ferrell said. “So it beats the heck out of me — I don’t know where they’re basing that.”

Though in recent months several campaign ads have been taken off the air for accuracy reasons, Ferrell said the Byrd campaign would rather get the truth out instead of challenge the ads.

In Rhode Island, Republican primary challenger Steve Laffey has singled out Chafee for being the only Republican to vote for an amendment to the immigration bill that would have allowed 12 million illegal immigrants to remain in the country and streamlined the legalization process.

He said Chafee’s votes on that amendment and against another amendment, which would have prevented legalized immigrants from collecting Social Security benefits for work they did as illegal immigrants, show just how far left Chafee has shifted.

Laffey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said Laffey would have voted against the overall bill.

Chafee spokesman Ian Lang countered by noting that Chafee’s stance on immigration is similar to President Bush’s and that the final bill makes the legalization process sufficiently difficult.

He said Laffey’s past actions on immigration contrast with his recent statements, referring specifically to the Cranston, R.I., mayor’s support for allowing the use of identification cards issued by the Guatemalan and Mexican embassies — a practice that a Center for Immigration Studies report says is useful only for illegal immigrants. Lang also cited a Providence Journal article from early 2005 in which Laffey advocated having American companies like Wal-Mart set up employment centers at the border to recruit illegal crossers, and then the U.S. government, in turn, give them short-term visas.

Lang said Chafee doesn’t outright oppose the foreign-embassy ID cards but has major concerns about them.

Soloveichik pointed out that the Justice Department has permitted the use of the cards, and she said they can be useful for temporary legal immigrants and also for police identifying illegal immigrants. She said the practice of sending recruiters to the border would promote legal immigration, which is consistent with Laffey’s stance.

In Arizona, Democratic challenger Jim Pederson criticized Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R) no vote on the final bill, charging that the vote was the culmination of his work to kill the legislation. In ads and releases, Pederson cites Arizona Republican colleague Sen. John McCain as saying that Kyl’s immigration plan “borders on fantasy.”

McCain said he was disappointed that Pederson used him to attack Kyl. Kyl’s campaign said his plan is oriented toward striking some middle ground between the Senate and House bills and that Kyl and McCain worked closely together to get the Senate bill through important votes.

In New Jersey, Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. criticized Sen. Robert Menendez (D) for opposing the amendment that would cut off legalized immigrants from getting Social Security benefits and others amendments that would make English the official language and would build a fence along the Mexican border.

Menendez, who voted for final passage, has charged Kean with flip-flopping by first supporting a path to citizenship and then asking for deportation of all illegal immigrants. Kean clarified his position in the local Herald News that people who are unable to return to their home countries and apply for citizenship should pay fines.

Around the country, other candidates are making emphatic statements as well.

In Montana, Sen. Conrad Burns (R) has aired an ad that calls out both of his Democratic opponents for not taking firm stances on the immigration debate.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. said the bill wasn’t perfect but noted that he would have voted for it and that it does not provide amnesty, as his opponent, Sen. Rick Santorum (R), contends.

And in Tennessee, all three major Republican candidates running to replace Sen. Bill Frist (R) and the likely Democratic candidate, Rep. Harold Ford, denounced the bill as too lenient because it provides a path to citizenship. Frist voted for the bill.